Reposted from Ming the Mechanic.
The Collective Intelligence Singularity
I don’t really believe in The Singularity, in the sense that there’s a rapidly approaching point in time when computers become much smarter than humans, so much smarter that they take over the control of the further evolution of society.
Generally speaking, the idea that there’s an accelerating curve of machine intelligence, leading to the machines taking over some time soon seems a little silly to me. There’s an accelerating curve of processing power, and there’s an accelerating curve of many other interesting things. But if you’re talking about conscious machines, there’s simply no curve. No computer has been shown to have any kind of consciousness whatsoever. None. Neither has any other machine we’ve constructed. You can program computers. Given more processing power and better algorithms, you can program computers to solve more and more problems in more flexible ways, running on their own more of the time. That’s great. But to simply hope that somewhere along the way, bing, a miracle happens and suddenly they become conscious as well, that’s a little naive. It would at least make sense to first try to understand what consciousness is.
But there are other singularities that are likely to happen relatively soon which are equally interesting, and much preferable. Most interesting to me would be the collective intelligence singularity which might well be just a couple of years away. I.e. there’s a point where we, as a group, a society, a planetary population, become smarter than any one of us. Not only that, but smarter than any one of us is able to understand. We right now already have a hard time understanding the world, but the collective intelligence isn’t yet particularly clever. At some point it might actually really, really start working, and we’ll not be able to understand exactly why.
For that matter, this could very well happen in 2012. You know, since many of us are looking towards some kind of cataclysmic event happening then. So, instead, it might very well be a monumental leap forward in our collective evolution. Not the end of the world, but the end of a world that can be dominated by individuals. A world where 6 billion people actually are smarter than any 1, 10, 100 or 1000 people, however rich and powerful and smart they are.
You see it beginning to happen right now, in the form of a series of uprisings against authoritarian governments. None of these revolutions are terribly intelligent, but they surely demonstrate that a large group of people is stronger than one strong guy and his hired hands. That’s surprisingly something new. The masses can get rid of the guy at the top, even and particularly if he is a billionaire and a mass-murderer, and then they can actually self-organize in constructive ways.
The global Collective Intelligence is certainly technologically amplified. The Internet is its nervous system. In all its forms: SMS, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, e-mail etc. But it is important to realize that it is not something foreign that is going to “take over”. It is all of us. We The People. Humanity.
The fact that a few desperate dictators keep trying to shut down or control electronic communication among “their” people will ensure that the network will evolve more rapidly to the point where it really can’t be shut down.
There are many things going on right now that are leading in the same direction. WikiLeaks makes it a bit harder for the few to hide big bad things from the many. Natural catastrophes accentuate the need for rapid ad hoc self-organization. Who knows what is going on? Are the people I know safe? How can I help?
It is becoming harder to lead large populations along based on lies, and it is becoming easier for large populations to figure out together what is going on and what needs to be done.
Collective Intelligence is emerging. It needs to develop more internal complexity, of the good kind, more connections, a more fine-grained neural network. But that can happen very quickly. There’s nothing essentially new that needs to be invented first.
It will take most of us by surprise. Then again, it won’t. It will take those few people by surprise who think it is up to them to make the world work, by owning or ruling most of it. The rest of us will be a bit surprised too, but at the same time we have an intuitive sense of it. No matter what political observation we think we adhere to, most of us have a sense of being part of The People, and we’d be quite satisfied to see that suddenly The People seems to know how to act in a sensible way. Things seem to strangely be getting better.
So, here’s my prediction: Before the end of the year 2012, next year, there will be a widespread realization that something profound has changed. Together we are undeniably more than any one of us possibly can be. People in power can no longer keep their sordid secrets, and for that matter, suddenly nobody can stay “in power” through the traditional means. Big problems get sorted out by self-organized networking. Suddenly, the more people get involved in something, the better the outcome tends to be. It is puzzling, and nobody can easily put their finger on how or why it changed. The best solutions are typically found, and the truth tends to emerge.
It is a singularity because, once it happens, there’s no way back. You can’t shut it off any longer. And none of us can completely understand it, or predict what it will do next. But at the same time, we will probably increasingly have a shared feeling of it. Because, again, it is us.